Kyle Larson struck gold following a late strategic call to pit for two fresh tires and place himself in race-winning contention, where he then navigated his way to the front during a late-race restart and proceeded to win the NOCO 400 at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday, April 16.
The 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion from Elk Grove, California, led the final 30 of 400 scheduled laps in an event that was dominated by all four Stewart-Haas Racing competitors. During a caution period with less than 60 laps remaining amid JJ Yeley’s wreck, Larson pitted with a host of lead lap competitors and opted for two fresh tires to restart towards the front. During the final restart with 46 laps remaining, Larson tracked and overtook Joey Logano, who was running on worn tires, with 30 laps remaining and never looked back as he proceeded to claim his first victory at the Paperclip-shaped short track and his second of the 2023 Cup campaign.
With on-track qualifying that determined the starting lineup occurring on Saturday, Ryan Preece notched his first Cup career pole after posting a pole-winning lap at 84.780 mph in 19.979 seconds. Joining him on the front row was Daniel Suarez, who posted the second-best qualifying lap at 94.298 mph in 20.081 seconds.
Prior to the event, Joey Logano dropped to the rear of the field due to unapproved adjustments made to his car.
When the green flag waved and the race commenced amid an early start due to weather concerns, Preece and Suarez dueled for the lead amid a side-by-side battle through the first two turns until Preece managed to peek ahead and clear Suarez through Turns 3 and 4 as he proceeded to lead the first lap. With Preece out in front of Suarez, Aric Almirola trailed in third followed by Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Briscoe while the rest of the field behind jostled for early positions through two tight-packed lanes.
Through the first 10 scheduled laps, Preece was leading by a second over Suarez followed by Almirola, Truex and Tyler Reddick while Briscoe, Kevin Harvick, Bubba Wallace, Denny Hamlin and William Byron were in the top 10. Behind, Todd Gilliland was in 11th followed by Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch, Chris Buescher and AJ Allmendinger while rookie Ty Gibbs, Austin Dillon, Brad Keselowski, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Christopher Bell occupied the top 20. By then, Chase Elliott, who returned to competition after recovering from his leg injury from a snowboarding accident in Colorado in early March, was back in 22nd in his No. 9 NAPA Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 behind teammate Alex Bowman. In addition, Ryan Blaney was in 24th, Erik Jones was back in 28th behind teammate Noah Gragson and Ross Chastain was mired back in 31st while battling Harrison Burton.
Fifteen laps later, Preece maintained his advantage to more than a second over Suarez’s No. 99 Worldwide Express Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 while third-place Almirola also trailed by more than a second. Truex and Reddick continued to run in the top five while Larson cracked the top 10 in 10th behind Hamlin as Byron dropped to 11th. Meanwhile, Elliott was mired back in 23rd, Logano was in 32nd and Austin Cindric was all the way back in 34th.
Another 10 laps later, Preece continued to lead by nearly a second over Suarez, who was slowly starting to close in on Suarez while Almirola trailed by a second in third place. The remainder of the top 10 spots that included Briscoe, Harvick, Wallace, Hamlin and Larson remained unchanged as the leaders started to approach lapped traffic.
At the Lap 50 mark, Preece, who continued to navigate his way through lapped traffic, retained the lead ahead of Suarez and Almirola as Suarez continued to close in for the lead. Behind, Reddick was in fourth and trailing by nearly four seconds while Briscoe was in fifth ahead of a battle between Truex and Harvick. Wallace, Hamlin and Larson occupied the remaining spots in the top 10 while Byron trailed in 11th. By then, Cindric was lapped by the field.
By Lap 65, Preece maintained the lead by a second over both Suarez and Almirola while Reddick and Briscoe remained in the top five. Meanwhile, Logano, who was still mired in 32nd, was lapped by the field while Elliott was in 23rd behind Bell and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. In addition, teammates Byron and Bowman along with Truex battled for 10th while Blaney was up in 14th in front of Kyle Busch.
When the first stage concluded on Lap 80, Preece steered his No. 41 Haas Ford Mustang to his first Cup career stage victory after leading every lap thus far. Teammate Almirola navigated his way into second followed by Reddick, Suarez and Briscoe while Harvick, Wallace, Hamlin, Larson and Byron were scored in the top 10. By then, 31 of 36 starters were scored on the lead lap.
Under the stage break, the lead lap field led by Preece pitted. Following the pit stops, Preece, who received a stellar pit stop from his pit crew, edged Suarez and Almirola off of pit road first to retain the lead while Redick, Harvick and Hamlin exited fourth through sixth, respectively. Following the pit stops, Zane Smith, who was filling in for the suspended Cody Ware, was penalized for speeding on pit road. Kyle Busch and Buescher were also penalized for equipment interference.
The second stage started on Lap 91 as Preece and Suarez occupied the front row. At the start, Preece battled and pulled ahead of Suarez through the backstretch and entering Turns 3 and 4 to maintain the lead while the field behind battled through two tight-packed lanes for positions. Soon after, teammate Almirola made his way up to second while Harvick and Hamlin were in the top five ahead of 23XI Racing’s Wallace and Reddick.
At the Lap 100 mark, Preece was leading just ahead of teammate Almirola, Suarez, Harvick and Hamlin while Wallace, Reddick, Larson, Bowman and Truex were in the top 10. Behind, Briscoe was in 11th ahead of Brad Keselowski, Byron, Todd Gilliland and Blaney while Austin Dillon, Bell, Ty Gibbs, AJ Allmendinger and Stenhouse rounded out the top 20.
Ten laps later, Preece maintained the lead by seven-tenths of a second over teammate Almirola, who continued to close in on his Stewart-Haas Racing teammate for the lead despite reporting early concerns of a loose lug nut and wheel to his No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang.
Just past the Lap 125 mark, Preece stabilized his advantage to four-tenths of a second over teammate Almirola while third-place Suarez trailed by more than a second. Meanwhile, fourth-place Harvick trailed by more than two seconds while Bowman cracked the top five in fifth. Hamlin, Wallace, Reddick, Larson and Briscoe were scored in the top 10 while Truex was mired back in 11th ahead of Keselowski, Byron, Gilliland and Blaney. Meanwhile, Bell was in 18th, Chastain was back in 25th, Elliott was mired in 28th and Logano was stuck back in 29th in front of Kyle Busch.
On Lap 132, the event’s second caution of the event flew when Harrison Burton spun through Turns 1 and 2 amid contact with Erik Jones while Elliott was able to carve his way through without sustaining damage. During the pit stops, nearly the entire field led by Preece returned to pit road for service. Following the pit stops, Preece barely edged Suarez and Almirola in a three-wide photo finish off of pit road first to maintain the lead while Todd Gilliland, Harvick and Bowman followed through from fourth to sixth, respectively. Following the pit stops, however, Preece was penalized and sent to the rear of the field for speeding on pit road. Wallace and Truex were also sent to the rear of the field for speeding on pit road. Back on the track, however, Chastain, who nearly lost a lap to the leaders during the first stage, remained on the track as he inherited the lead.
During the following restart on Lap 142, teammates Chastain and Suarez led the field to the start as Chastain rocketed with the lead on the inside lane. Behind, Almirola and Suarez battled for second in front of Gilliland while Harvick and Larson engaged in a fierce battle for fifth. Not long after, Suarez and Almirola engaged in a fierce battle for second, where Suarez bumped Almirola and both battled dead even through the backstretch and the frontstretch. This allowed Gilliland, who opted for two fresh tires during the previous caution period, to join the battle while Chastain pulled away by more than a second.
By Lap 160 and amid a series of on-track battles, Chastain was leading by a second over Gilliland while Stewart-Haas Racing’s Harvick and Briscoe moved up to third and fourth in front of Hamlin. Behind, Reddick was in sixth ahead of Suarez, Almirola, Keselowski and Larson while Bowman, Ty Gibbs, Bell, Stenhouse and Allmendinger were in the top 15. Byron, Blaney, Justin Haley, Gragson and Corey LaJoie occupied the top 20 while Preece was mired back in 26th, two spots behind Elliott.
Seven laps later, Harvick carved his No. 4 Realtree/Hunt Brothers Pizza Ford Mustang into the lead after overtaking Chastain. Teammate Briscoe would follow suit another lap later in second followed by a hard-charging Hamlin in his No. 11 Sport Clips Toyota TRD Camry. With Gilliland dropping to seventh behind Keselowski, Reddick would then navigate his No. 45 Monster Energy Toyota TRD Camry into fourth over Chastain just past the Lap 170 mark while Suarez and Almirola, both of whom ran upfront in the early stages, were back in eighth and ninth.
When the second stage concluded on Lap 180, Harvick, who was making his penultimate Cup start at Martinsville, captured his first stage victory of the 2023 Cup season and his first since 2020. Teammate Briscoe followed suit in second followed by Hamlin, Reddick and Keselowski while Chastain, Gilliland, Suarez, Almirola and Larson were scored in the top 10. By then, 31 of 36 starters were scored on the lead lap while names that included Byron, Blaney, Preece, Kyle Busch, Elliott, Logano, Wallace and Truex were mired back in 16th, 17th, 23rd, 24th, 25th, 26th, 28th and 31st. In addition, the sun overshadowed the track.
Under the stage break, the lead lap field led by Harvick pitted. Following the pit stops, Briscoe exited with the lead followed by teammate Harvick, Keselowski, Hamlin, Almirola and Larson.
With 208 laps remaining, the final stage started as Briscoe and Keselowski occupied the front row followed by Harvick and Almirola. At the start, Briscoe maintained the lead as he jumped away from the field followed by teammate Harvick while Keselowski and Hamlin battled for third in front of Almirola, Larson and Suarez. By then, the field engaged in two tight-packed racing through the corners and straightaways while the cloud cover returned above the Paperclip-shaped track.
At the race’s halfway mark with 200 laps remaining, Briscoe was leading by three-tenths of a second over teammate Harvick followed by Hamlin, Keselowski and Almirola while Larson, Reddick, Gilliland, Suarez and Chastain were scored in the top 10. Meanwhile, Bell was in 11th in front of Bowman, Blaney, LaJoie and Gibbs while Allmendinger, Stenhouse, Byron, Haley and Elliott were in the top 20. By then, Preece was in 21st ahead of Kyle Busch, Wallace, Logano and Erik Jones while McDowell, Buescher, Austin Dillon, Truex and Gragson rounded out the top 30.
With 175 laps remaining, Briscoe continued to lead by two-tenths of a second over teammate Harvick while also approaching lapped traffic while third-place Hamlin trailed by four-tenths of a second. As Almirola and Keselowski trailed in the top five, Larson was in sixth ahead of Reddick, Gilliland, Suarez and Chastain.
With less than 150 laps remaining, Briscoe maintained the lead by two-tenths of a second over Hamlin while Harvick fell back to third in front of teammate Almirola and Keselowski. Then with 143 laps remaining, Hamlin made his move beneath Briscoe’s No. 14 HighPoint.com Ford Mustang and captured the lead while Harvick kept the two leaders within his sights. Harvick would then move into second place after overtaking teammate Briscoe with 137 laps remaining while teammate Almirola followed suit during the following lap, thus placing three of four Stewart-Haas Racing competitors in the top four.
With 120 laps remaining, Hamlin was leading by two seconds over Harvick followed by Harvick’s teammates Almirola and Briscoe while Keselowski occupied fifth in front of Larson, Reddick, Gilliland, Suarez and Bell. By then, Preece, the fourth Stewart-Haas Racing competitor, was mired in 21st, the final competitor on the lead lap, behind Elliott while names that included Wallace, Logano, Austin Dillon, Michael McDowell, Truex, Erik Jones, Kyle Busch, Gragson, LaJoie, Harrison Burton and Cindric were lapped by the field.
Seven laps later, Blaney pitted his No. 12 Advance Auto Parts Ford Mustang under green as Hamlin lapped Preece while trying to lap Elliott. By then, Wallace was trying to keep pace with his owner Hamlin to cycle back on the lead lap as Bowman, Reddick, Kyle Busch and Bell pitted. This commenced a cycle of green flag pit stops as Harvick pitted along with Haley, Almirola, Briscoe and others. Not long after, the leader Hamlin pitted under green followed by Larson, Byron, Gilliland and Elliott. Amid the pit stops, AJ Allmendinger was penalized for speeding on pit road. Erik Jones would also be penalized for improper fueling.
Back on the track and with 107 laps remaining, Keselowski was leading followed by Suarez, Wallace, Logano, Austin Dillon and McDowell and Truex, all of whom had yet to make a pit stop. Meanwhile, Harvick, the first competitor who pitted, was up in eighth as he cycled ahead of Hamlin, Almirola and Briscoe. Suarez would then assume the lead with 100 laps remaining followed by Wallace as Keselowski pitted.
With 98 laps remaining, however, the caution flew after the right-rear wheel from Anthony Alfredo’s No. 78 BJ McLeod Motorsports entry came off on the frontstretch as the wheel came to rest against the outside wall while Alfredo limped his car back to pit road. During the caution period, a host of lead lap competitors led by Suarez pitted while the rest led by Briscoe, Reddick and Larson remained on the track.
Down to the final 88 laps of the event, the race restarted under green as Briscoe and Larson occupied the front row. At the start, Briscoe fended off Larson to retain the lead as the field stacked up and battled amid two lanes. With Larson maintaining second ahead of Harvick, Reddick and Suarez were in the top five while Logano and Wallace battled for sixth in front of Almirola, Hamlin and Truex.
With 75 laps remaining, Briscoe was leading by a second over Larson and Reddick in third place, while Harvick and Suarez were in fourth and fifth. By then, 24 of 36 starters were scored on the lead lap as the field continued to bump and jostle for late positions.
Then with 58 laps remaining, the caution returned when JJ Yeley went dead straight into the Turn 3 outside wall while locking up the brakes. By then, Briscoe was leading ahead of Larson, Reddick, Harvick and Suarez. During the caution period, a majority of the field led by Briscoe pitted while the rest that included Logano, Almirola and Hamlin remained on the track. Following the pit stops, late disaster struck for Harvick, who returned to pit road with a flat right-front tire as a result of a wheel nut coming loose.
With 46 laps remaining, the race restarted under green as Logano and Almirola occupied the front row. At the start, Logano, who rallied from being mired a lap down during the first stage, gained the advantage on the inside lane as he took off from Almirola and assumed the lead while Hamlin battled and overtook Almirola for second place during the following lap. Larson and Briscoe would then challenge Almirola for third while Logano checked out with the lead by half a second.
With 35 laps remaining, Logano was leading by two-tenths of a second over a hard-charging Larson and over a second over third-place Hamlin while Briscoe and Almirola were in the top five. Behind, Stenhouse was up in sixth ahead of Blaney, Truex, Wallace and Suarez while Austin Dillon, Bowman, Chastain, Reddick and Buescher. Meanwhile, Preece was in 17th, Byron was back in 20th after reporting a potential vibration to his car and Harvick was mired back in 24th behind Kyle Busch.
Then with 30 laps remaining, Larson, who tracked Logano on two fresh tires since the start of the latest restart, overtook and fended off Logano to assume the lead in his No. 5 HendrickCars.com Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 while third-place Hamlin kept the two leaders within his sights. By then, teammates Briscoe and Almirola remained in the top five while Truex challenged Stenhouse for sixth.
Down to the final 20 laps of the event, Larson was leading by more than two seconds over Logano and more than three seconds over Hamlin. Larson then extended his advantage to more than three seconds with 10 laps remaining and with five laps remaining. By then, Logano retained second over a hard-charging Truex while Hamlin, Briscoe and Almirola fell back to fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively. Meanwhile, Elliott cracked the top 10 in 10th place after overtaking Austin Dillon as he had Wallace within his sights.
When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Larson remained as the leader by nearly four seconds over Logano. With a clear view in front of him and no challengers lurking behind, Larson was able to cycle his way around the Paperclip-shaped short track for a final time as he returned to the frontstretch and claimed his first checkered flag at the track.
With his first victory at Martinsville, Larson notched his 21st NASCAR Cup Series career victory and his second of the season after winning two weeks ago at Richmond Raceway. As a result, he joined teammate William Byron as the only other multi-race Cup winner of this season and delivered the all-time leading 28th Martinsville victory for Hendrick Motorsports. Larson’s victory occurred as crew chief Cliff Daniels returned atop the No. 5 pit box following a four-week suspension amid the hood louver penalties that affected all of Hendrick Motorsports’ entries from Phoenix Raceway in March.
“Huge congratulations to this whole No. 5 team and Hendrick Motorsports,” Larson, who had two top-three finishes at Martinsville prior to his victory, said on FS1. “I feel like [crew chief] Cliff [Daniels] and everybody did a great job all day on pit road. Making the right calls, having great pit stops and then, it all kind of worked out for me there at the end. We had a great car. That was the best my car had been in being able to get out front and manage. I never ever would have thought that I would won here at Martinsville. This place has been so tough on me. [The track] Just does not suit my driving style at all. I like to charge the center. I like to roll momentum. That’s just not what this place is like, but thanks to Cliff Daniels and everybody for making me feel like I know what I’m doing sometimes around here. Just can’t believe it.”
Logano fended off Truex to finish second while Hamlin and Briscoe finished in the top five.
“It’s a solid recovery for what the start of the race looked like,” Logano said. “We went down a lap twice, two times. At one point in the race, I would have been just happy to finish on the lead lap. [Crew chief] Paul [Wolfe] did a good job of getting some good changes to the Verizon Mustang to where I got competitive. We just needed track position. [I] Was able to stay out, get a lucky caution there during a green flag cycle. Stayed out again when everyone pitted. It put ourselves on the front row and a shot to win the race. I tried holding off Larson as long as I could, but overall, there’s days when you’re mad about second. Today’s not one of those days when you’re pretty stoked that you finished a little better than I thought we were going to.”
“We had kind of a crazy day with our Bass Pro Shops Toyota Camry TRD,” Truex said. “Really just got a little bit lucky there, getting back to the lead lap midrace and just kept working on our car. We were just loose all day long and then finally at the end, we got it a whole lot better. It was fun at the end, passing a lot of cars and getting up there. Still needed to be a little bit better, but overall, proud of everybody sticking with it and just grinding one out today.”
Almirola navigated his way to a sixth-place result followed by Blaney, Stenhouse and Wallace while Chase Elliott earned a 10th-place result in his return to competition following a six-race absence.
“[Today] was pretty good,” Elliott said. “It was about what I expected, so it was a good thing. It was warm and I’ve been sitting on the couch for six weeks, so I think that probably hurt me more than anything. Our NAPA Chevy, we struggled really bad, honestly, for every run but the last. We finally got it going there at the end and I was able to make some passes and do things that I didn’t really think I was capable of doing early. I was pleasantly surprised by that and got us a top 10 out of our first day back, so that was definitely nothing to be too bummed out about.”
Notably, Preece ended up 15th after leading a race-high 136 laps, Suarez finished 17th, Harvick settled in 20th and Byron fell back to 23rd behind Reddick.
There were 10 lead changes for nine different leaders. The race featured five cautions for 50 laps. In addition, 24 of 36 starters finished on the lead lap.
Following the ninth event of the 2023 Cup Series season, Christopher Bell leads the regular-season standings by five points over Ross Chastain, 15 over Kevin Harvick, 17 over Kyle Larson, 36 over Martin Truex Jr. and 37 over Tyler Reddick.
1. Kyle Larson, 30 laps led
2. Joey Logano, 25 laps led
3. Martin Truex Jr.
4. Denny Hamlin, 36 laps led
5. Chase Briscoe, 109 laps led
6. Aric Almirola
7. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
8. Ryan Blaney
9. Bubba Wallace
10. Chase Elliott
11. Alex Bowman
12. Austin Dillon
13. Ross Chastain, 31 laps led
14. Chris Buescher
15. Ryan Preece, 135 laps led, Stage 1 winner
16. Christopher Bell
17. Daniel Suarez, seven laps led
18. Ty Gibbs
19. Michael McDowell
20. Kevin Harvick, 20 laps led, Stage 2 winner
21. Kyle Busch
22. Tyler Reddick
23. William Byron
24. Brad Keselowski, seven laps led
25. Todd Gilliland, one lap down
26. Corey LaJoie, one lap down
27. AJ Allmendinger, one lap down
28. Justin Haley, two laps down
29. Harrison Burton, two laps down
30. Noah Gragson, two laps down
31. Erik Jones, two laps down
32. Ty Dillon, three laps down
33. Austin Cindric, three laps down
34. Zane Smith, five laps down
35. Anthony Alfredo, 10 laps down
36. JJ Yeley – OUT
Next on the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series schedule is the series’ first of two visits to Talladega Superspeedway in Talladega, Alabama, for the GEICO 500. The event is scheduled to occur next Sunday, April 23, at 3 p.m. ET on FOX.